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ISSN 0281-9864 

Lund University 


Cognitive Science Research 

A Cognitive Economics Approach 
to Information Management 

Bernhard Bier schenk 
Inger Bierschenk 

1986 No, 13 

Communications should be sent to: 
Cognitive Science Research 
Paradisgatan 5 
Lund University 
S-223 50 Lund, Sweden 

Coordinator: Bernhard Bierschenk 
Department of Psychology 



This article presents a study in cognitive economics. 
It originates from a survey of mechanics carried out by a 
Swedish multinational machine industry. The verbal response 
of 7 US and 7 Swedish mechanics to three open questions con- 
cerning information needs were analyzed with Perspective 
Text Analysis. Only configurations building on significant 
groupings which do not fall below the lower limit of t ^q 
of the t-distribution are retained in the analysis. The struc- 
tures embedded in the texts are visualized in three-dimension- 
al cubic spaces. The results are discussed with respect to 
their dimensionality as well as to the phase spaces of the 
cognitive processes. They show that US and Swedish workers 
diverge considerably in their conception of information needs 
related to their work, which should have consequences for the 
information management of the industry. 

The development of competence is highly dependent on the 
possibilities of preserving knowledge whether in institutions, 
companies, or in society as a whole. In many scientific fields, 
attention is devoted to questions on how information should be 
presented and organized in a hiunan context. This article re- 
ports on a way in which information management could profit 
through cognitive economics. Its focus is on the cognitive pro- 
cesses involved in " knowledge work " , especially their condi- 
tions at the cutting edge of living and non living systems. 

There is an articulated interest today in cognitive proces- 
ses the way they relate to economic settings. Thus for manage- 
ment, it is important to get hold of the individual employee's 
conception of reality and need for information in his work. 
This new area of research has come about as the result of the 
technological development with its requirements on precision 
and progress. The economical success of a particular group of 
companies or a certain enterprise rests on their ability to 
form policies with respect to the development of new competences 
or maintain those already developed. Information needs play an 
important role in this process, as well as in the development 
of mechanic instriunents and workshop equipment. The objectives 
are partly to produce materials, techniques, and processes, part- 
ly to follow up the economical consequences of the warranted 
quality of hardware. 

The Cognitive Science Research Unit at Lund University has 
developed a method, " Perspective Text Analysis " (Bierschenk 8c 
Bierschenk, 1986, a, b, c), by means of which the cognitive 
structure of a person or group of persons can be analyzed on the 
basis of their natural language utterances. The method has been 
used in various studies, such as annual reports of management 
and policy statements. The studies carried out sofar all point 
in the same direction: (l) A well functioning industry or orga- 
nization is dependent on the knowledge models according to which 
the key persons are working, and (2) knowledge about how these 
models operate in information processing can be used for instruc- 

tion and innovative processes. 

The conditions of information management are different 
for business administrations mainly steered by their budget or 
by their markets respectively. In the latter case, the sensi- 
tivity to information needs, by necessity, is high because poli- 
cies have to be formed in cooperation with the markets. Thus 
agreement on which course of action constitutes the policy of 
a particular company is dependent on the perspective of the po- 
licy makers on events related to the market. The action to be 
taken should have a wide ramification and a long time perspec- 
tive. Policy formation needs to be concerned with social and 
intellectual processes. This means that the policy maker should 
deal with such matters as the individual's allocation of time 
and degree of attention payed to information search processes. 
Since the individual's sensitivity to time is intimately rela- 
ted to his sensitivity to justice, policy formation incorporates 
also a moral aspect. This relation may be expressed as an atten- 
tion to every-day problems. 

. The present study compares the mentality among American 
(us) and Swedish workers (mechanics) employed by a Swedish multi- 
national machine industry. Through Perspective Text Analysis it 
has been possible to visualize, in a cubic space, the cognitive 
structujre of the two groups as regards their information needs. 
The divergence between the US and Swedish mechanics ought to 
have considerable effects on the information policy of the in- 
dustry in question. 

US Workers' Conception of Reality 

This study originates from an extensive questionnaire, in ' 
which, among others, the following questions were posed to US 

^ . Do you have any ideas/suggestions how to encourage more 

mechanics to use the service manuals? 
2. Do you have any suggestions how getting information to 

you can be improved? 

3. Do you think too much (or too little) paper (informa- 
tion) is sent out? 

Only 19 useful unrestricted responses vere obtained. From 
these, 7 vere randomly selected to be compared with the entire 
Swedish responses ( in all 7). With respect to the presentation 
of the realized category structures, the US material presented 
in Figure 1 vill be discussed first. 

The background of the cube represents the Figure component. 
The upper left part of the left hand side of the cube takes up 
the Means component. At the base of the cube, relations of the 
Ground component are visualized. The foreground takes up the 
perspective on the Ground. All categories exceed the lover bound 
t Qp, of the confidence interval of the t-distributions. 

The edges of the planes represent the terminal states of 
the process of textual transformation. In considering the Figxire 
component, the edges at the left hand side represent a distinct 
state phase, which can be discerned as Contextualized Informa- 
tion. The edges in the base indicate Information Constraints, 
while the edges at the right hand side mark Information Flow. 
At the top, Pretension provides a reference point for the last 

The next step in the description of the Figure component 
may be taken in order to discern the dimensionality of the com- 
ponent. There are two different kinds of dimensions. By drawing 
horisontal lines, cognitive dimensions can be extracted. Start- 
ing from the base, the first dimension may be described as Capa- 
bility, the second one mth Constructi veness and the third one 
with Power. By drawing vertical lines, four theme specific di- • 
mensions can be read from the Figure component. Reading from 
left to right, these are (l) Proficiency, (2) Honour, (3) Trust- 
worthiness, and (4) Sntrustment. 

The cognitive process depicted in the background of the 
cube starts in the terminal state of Declination and ends in the 
singularity marked by Worthiness. This process is characterized 
by three cycles. The first cycle reaches its highest point marked 



infornnation Use 
Supply Function 






Coordination! ,., /' 

• ". rwnrthi 



Worthiness v^ 


» — 

..-* Provision 

V— '4 Information Timing 

Information Access 
Cognitive Operation 

\ Recognition 

'-._'f of Ability 
Reasonablenes>><' \..,^Mastery '^j Lack of Information 

Methodological lnnovatb><"' 'v.j.Authorization 

Information Lag \. »^ 


Figure 1 , Operating structural relations 
characterizing perspectives and 
objectives of US mechanics. 
Background: Figure component; 
foreground: perspective on Figure; 
bottom: Ground component; top: 
perspective on Ground; upper left 
part : Means component 


by Authorization. The second cycle produces Provision. When 
the second one crosses the first one, a new singularity is 
reached, namely Sdification. The circle around this peak marks 
the effect of a deepening of the conceptualization. The third 
and final cycle transforms Edification into the highest point 
of the entire cognitive process, that is Worthiness. Thus a 
conception of merit and respect has emerged as the root of the 
mentality of US mechanics. 

The terminal states and dimensions of the Ground component 
concern a Contextualization of information as well as Instruc- 
tion. The two cognitive dimensions refer to Specialization and 
Framing, while the theme specific dimensions point toward a 
need for Selectivity. 

The algorithm that has operated on the text material builds 
on a mechanism that binds the textual agent to various textual 
objectives. The differentiation of the perspectives on the Fi- 
gure or the Ground respectively rests on this mechanism. The out- 
come shows that Worthiness is in the focus of the perspective 
on the Figure, while Comprehension is in the focus of the per- 
spective on the Ground. Thus some central aspects are put to- 
gether and become transformed to a new dimensionality. The devel- 
opment of the processes characterizing the perspectives on Fi- 
gure and Ground are not only one-phased but also very short. 

Swedish Mentality 

The Swedish mechanics answered the same three questions. 
In all, there were 7 Swedish subjects whose unrestricted respon- 
ses could be used for the analysis. The cubic space containing 
the structured information in this material is presented in Fi- 
gure 2. 

As before, the description will begin with the Figure com- 
ponent. The first terminal state, named Laboxirousness , includes 
most of the information. The process ends when it reaches its 
final singularity, Lack of Quality. The Figure is one-dimensional, 
thus expressing Plainness. The whole process is characterized by 
two very short cycles. The process leaps from the initial state 



Unsophistication ( r"^'. 

Technological \ 

\ ,> Unsophistication 


Lack of Quality 

Lack of Quality 

Working Context 

of Message 

Ground component 

into the second cycle, which produces Unsophistication. when 
this is transformed by Labourousness, the final peak is 
reached, which means that the natural or essential character 
of the work or goods produced is of low standard. 

The Ground component expresses a one-step process. The 
transformation produces Working Climate as the only singulari- 
ty in the Ground. There is no perspective on the Ground, while 
the perspective on the Figure focuses on Lack of Quality. 


Two kinds of texts were analyzed with the aim to detect 
and compare their category structures. This comparison of the 
structural relations shows striking differences. There is a 
clear indication that the categories are not only totally dif- 
ferent but also differently related. Considering the cultural 
differences, the analyses point towards a fascinating divergency 
of worker mentality. 

US workers exposed to Swedish management feel their Worthi- 
ness to be insufficiently recognized. They give expression to 
a need for being edified by the company. This concept may be 
seen as a necessary means to increase the subjective conscious- 
ness and to facilitate an inner-directed change of behaviour 
instead of outer-directed behavioural modifications. The final 
terminal state is Pretension, which is determined by the ratio 
of actual behaviour to supposed behavioural potential. The US 
workers bring about a self-directedness in that information is 
of concern to them. It is a necessary and as such an integra- 
tive part of their every-day life, at the same time as it is 

Effective information management seems to be in the ground 
of their conception. It is the foundation of competence develop- 
ment. In this perspective, it is of great interest to them to be 
aided in their search for information. Without having access to 
simple quantitative functions, help can only be provided through 
Tutorage, which is the terminal state transforming the Focussing 
into Comprehension. 

The Means component shows Information Use as initial ter- 
minal state. This focal point indicates the importance of infor- 
mation necessary in the production of knowledge within one's 
own area of competence. The process transits through the state 
marked Supply Function. Here the importance of a function for- 
information pick-up transforms the initial state into Regula- 
tion, expressing a need for putting values on the presentation 
of information. 

The Swedish mechanics seem to subordinate themselves to the 
company. They are unconcerned about information of technical 
kind. They indicate neither a feeling of any suppression of their 
ability nor any wish for challenging tasks. The first terminal 
state, Labourousness, indicates the motivation of the workers, 
labour discipline, rest hours, nujnber of working days and sala- 
ry claims. In particular the concept addresses these workers' 
outer-directedness, i.e., their fixation on getting paid for 
every time unit invested in their familiarization with the in- 
formation needed. The next state, Technical Simplification, 
gives expression to the demand for simplified instructions. They 
are unconcerned about information related to their working knowl- 
edge. Simple-mindedness is the state which stands for the effect 
of an expressed unwillingness to invest efforts in order to reach 
a certain level of technical qualification. At this point the 
Swedes give evidence of the absence of refinement or a structur- 
al approach to instructional materials. 

The Swedish conceptual ground is a one-step process, which 
starts with the terminal state of Working Context. It refers to 
conditions of the working place, particularly substances pollu- 
ting the environment, air conditioning and cleanness. The second 
state, Updating of Message, refers to the import of being conti- 
nuously informed about ongoing matters of value to the personnel. 

As for information management within a US or a Swedish cul- 
tural setting, it can be stated that the experience conveyed by 
the US workers is grounded in the need for contacts with tutors 
to facilitate their comprehension of technical information. Such 


a groiind is absent in the Swedish workers. 


Bierschenk, B. 8c BierschenJc, I. (1986). Concept formulation. 
Part I. The phenomenon of cognition. Cognitive Science Re- 
search (10) . (a) 

BierschenJc, B. & BierschenJc, I. (1986). Concept formulation. 
Part II. Measurement of formulation processes. Cognitive 
Science Research (ll). (b) 

BierschenJc, B. & BierschenJc, I. (1986). Concept formulation, 
part III. Analysis of mentality. Cognitive Science Research 
(12). (c) 

Ac Jcnowl ed gemen t s 

This research vas supported by a grant from a Swedish indus- 
try. The data analyzed were collected by the industry and made 
available to the authors. 

An earlier version of the article was presented at the 10th 
Scandinavian Conference of Business Administration, August 
19-22, 1986 at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business 
Administration in Bergen.